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Second Fortnight

Second Fortnight
signed and dated ‘H R Ocampo ‘75’ (lower right); signed and dated again, titled and inscribed ‘SECOND FORTNIGHT Oil – 40” X 30” by H. R. Ocampo 1975’ (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
102 x 76.5 cm. (40 1/8 x 30 1/8 in.)
Painted in 1975
Acquired directly from the artist, thence by descent to the present owner

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Jacky Ho (何善衡)
Jacky Ho (何善衡)

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Lot Essay

Of the vanguard modernists of mid-20th-century Philippine art, Christie’s is honoured to present two exceptional works by Jose T. Joya and H.R. Ocampo, illustrious figures in Philippine art history who were both conferred the highest recognition of Philippine National Artist in 1991 and 2003 respectively. Held in a private family collection and making their first appearance in auction, Time Symbol (Lot 48) and Second Fortnight (Lot 49) are testaments to the legacy of friendship, acquired directly from both artists by the father of the present collector, who had been their longstanding financial advisor. Unique in style and composition, yet so characteristic of each artist’s individual visual idiom, the present lots represent the varied styles of Filipino abstract art and hold significance in their own contribution toward the modernist visual aesthetic as we know it today.

In Joya’s paintings, one strongly notes a gestural style that captures, rather than portrays the cosmic forces around us. The artist often derived his abstracts from tropical landscapes, building them up into vigorous compositions of textured impastos, controlled drips and expressive brushstrokes in a bold, explorative style which earned him the reputation as the Philippines’ abstract expressionist par excellence.

An extremely rare painting made during Joya’s prolific 70s period, Time Symbol (1974) presents a singular vision of raw power and energy distilled onto a painting surface rich in both visual and textural detail. Joya reinterprets the traditional format of landscape painting here, recreating an abstract pictorial realm replete with subdued monochromatic colours accumulating in generous layers of impasto strokes, which are then choreographed into a series of intertwining blocks resembling boulders or masonry. The artist paints fluidly, demonstrating his expressive method with swift and sinuous black calligraphic lines reminiscent of ancient Chinese oracle bone inscriptions, a striking contrast against the varying shades of grey, white and subtle hues of brown. Larger drippings of paint are splashed across the centre of the canvas in streaks of white, their smooth, rounded protrusions and capricious bursts accentuating Joya’s kinetic act of painting and bold artistic creation.

Joya’s talent and natural aptitude for drawing and art was honed from an early age, and he achieved much recognition as the first person to graduate magna cum laude from the University of Philippines’ School of Fine Arts. Most significant among his numerous accolades was a Fulbright-Smith Mundt scholarship in 1956 which allowed him to embark on his Master's degree at the Cranbrook Academy in Michigan. Joya’s New York sojourn at this time gave him the space to experiment and explore how chance, accident and spontaneity could be part of art production. The New York scene in the 1950s was invigorated with the ascendancy of Jackson Pollock and action painting, and the period which Joya spent in America proved to be fundamental to his development in abstract expression.

Straddling the threshold between Western abstract expressionism and its oriental quality, Time Symbol extracts the essence from both and integrates them into Joya’s personal visual idiom. Spontaneous and vigorous in execution, the painting draws from the abstract expressionists and their desire to tap on the primal impulses to create, while also drawing an emphatic tune-up with nature through references to Chinese calligraphy.

Time Symbol is infused with both vitality and improvisation, resisting any typical methods of characterisation, with the artist consolidating any remaining subjective elements into purely sensory impressions of light, movement and energy. True to abstract expressionist elements, the painting exemplifies Joya’s working style along with his inner psyche and process of exploration. The title itself seems to allude to the pensive state of the artist amidst the execution of this evocative work – the contemplative consideration of the movement of time and its significance as the spirited and restive master of the cosmos, a symbol and measure of past, present and future.

Running parallel to the abstract expressionist effusions of Joya is the striking quasi-figurative and biomorphic forms of Hernando Ruiz Ocampo. As a member of the acclaimed Thirteen Moderns collective, Ocampo was one of Philippine abstract art’s earliest exponents, leading the modernist movement from the 1950s until his death in 1978. A self-taught artist who never went abroad for his study, Ocampo created highly original paintings rendered in fiery tropical colours, pioneering a form of abstraction derived from the landscapes, figures and natural phenomena of his archipelago home, while also drawing on science fiction and fantasy.

Painted in 1975, Second Fortnight is an exquisite example of Ocampo’s skill and method and alludes directly to his ‘visual melody’ period of the late 60s to 70s. Featuring a lush symphony of fluid, protoplasmic forms characterised by a varying spectrum of deep reds, tawny oranges and bold yellow tones, the shapes cling and interlock together in a rhythmic flow, seemingly fluctuating in space. Ocampo achieves rhythm by repeating, varying and contrasting each of his elements – line, colour and space – all over the canvas, with the purposive use of colour as a compositional element, directing the viewer’s gaze through the use of complementation and juxtaposition. Often, there isn’t one, but several centres of visual interest, anchored by high key colours (in this case, red) within shapes which serve as determining points for the chromatic scheme of each work.

Ocampo’s paintings are also richly textured, achieved through the use of broken colour strokes similar to that of the Impressionists. The artist worked and painted using the stippling method, where oil pigments are directly applied using small subtle touches with a palette knife. Ocampo’s distinctive shapes within his canvases are also softly graded into shadow, creating a sense of gradient and depth amidst the undulations, while intensifying colour. The result is a sensual, pulsating work that is highly emotive, yet austerely enigmatic in its overall imagery.

It is uncertain if Ocampo believed in the intuitive process of letting his shapes and lines fall where they may on a canvas, for in fact, the artist was very methodical and often drew studies — usually forms in black on a blank canvas – for his oil works. These shapes were then colourcoded from light to dark, with each shade assigned a corresponding number. The result of this seemingly detached de numero technique is far from being coldly mechanical, but is instead, evidence of Ocampo’s brilliance as a master orchestrator of colour, tone and texture, with a precision and mode of painting similar to musical composition. In spite of his preoccupation with the abstract form, Ocampo’s art is nothing, if not humanist at its core. Present in his works from the 50s to 70s are shapes and silhouettes found in nature, most commonly an irregular motif in the shape of a flame, made especially striking when its local colour is red or a variant of it. Indeed, when viewed in wide perspective, one can still make out shadows of wavy figures among Second Fortnight ’s fluid abstract forms, a nod to remnants of humanised icons in the work that alludes to themes of dance, rebirth and a sense of hope borne from the passing of time, as suggested in the present lot’s title.

What’s ultimately clear from Second Fortnight is Ocampo’s persuasive sense of design which grabs the viewer’s attention, not through an individual shape or a patch of colour, but rather the harmony and balance of the whole. The subtle modulation from one pictorial section to the next, the rhythmic forms and variety of textures produced by his palette knife all add up to a luminous glowing illusion of exuberant life that exemplifies unity, coherence and emphasis through Ocampo’s originality of invention which stands unmatched by other Filipino painters.

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